Incipient resistance to an effective pesticide results from genetic adaptation and the canalization of gene expression.
The resistance of pest species to chemical controls has vast ecological, economic, and societal costs. In most cases, resistance is only detected after spreading throughout an entire population. Detecting resistance in its incipient stages, by comparison, provides time to implement preventative strategies. Incipient resistance can be detected by coupling standard toxicology assays with large-scale gene expression experiments. We apply this approach to a system where an invasive parasite, sea lamprey (Petromyzon marinus), has been treated with the highly effective pesticide 3-trifluoromethyl-4-nitrophenol (TFM) for 60 years. Toxicological experiments revealed that lamprey from treated populations did not have higher survival to TFM exposure than lamprey from untreated populations, demonstrating that full-fledged resistance has not yet evolved. In contrast, we find hundreds of genes differentially expressed in response to TFM in the population with the longest history of exposure, many of which relate to TFM's primary mode of action, the uncoupling of oxidative phosphorylation, and subsequent depletion of ATP. Three genes critical to oxidative phosphorylation, ATP5PB, PLCB1, and NDUFA9, were nearly fixed for alternative alleles in comparisons of SNPs between treated and untreated populations (FST > 5 SD from the mean). ATP5PB encodes subunit b of ATP synthase and an additional subunit, ATP5F1B, was canalized for high expression in treated populations, but remained plastic in response to TFM treatment in individuals from the untreated population. These combined genomic and transcriptomic results demonstrate that an adaptive, genetic response to TFM is likely driving incipient resistance in a damaging pest species.